By Andrew Haubner

SACRAMENTO (CBS13)) — Cal Fire is already on pace to break the arson arrest record the department made in 2021, and with conditions getting hotter and drier earlier in the season they’re asking for the public’s help.

“Nobody can realistically say ‘I didn’t expect something like that to happen.’ We’re literally experiencing that more frequently than ever,” said Issac Sanchez with Cal Fire.

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Cal Fire has already made 69 arson-related arrests in 2020.

California penal code defines arson in two ways: malicious intent or reckless behavior. Malice is lighting fires with the intent to destroy, while reckless behavior can be something like lighting fireworks in a dry brush.

Sanchez, along with UC Davis Director of the Center of Environment and Health Kent Pinkerton agree that fire conditions are making arson a substantially more serious crime.

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“It’s very easy to ignite and if we also have issues with weather and wind that just exacerbates the condition tremendously,” Pinkerton explained.

The severity of wildfire behavior has made Cal Fire and local law enforcement operate with more urgency in apprehending arson suspects.

“Because that’s one less person out there that can potentially devastate a community,” said Sanchez.

While the agency couldn’t point to any specific reason for the rapid rise in arrests — nearly double from before the pandemic — Sanchez believes more citizen interaction has allowed them to take more arsonists off the street.

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“Almost just as important, if not more important, are the witnesses,” Sanchez said. “The folks that pick up the phone and call 9-1-1, that pick up the phone and dial the anonymous arson reporting hotline.”

Andrew Haubner